Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory

2017 Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters

Anti-colonial Education

  • George J. Sefa Dei
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-588-4_500


Contemporary schooling and education must confront some important questions: How can educators assist learners to reimagine new futures where human lives are transformed in profound, productive, and meaningful ways? How do we begin to talk of critical anti-colonial subjects who would embark on a collective and radical imagining and imagination of new futures? How do we reimagine the school space from an institution that teaches normalized values to one that interrogates histories and addresses inequity? The politics of futurity requires that we bring a critical anti-colonial gaze to schooling and education and the possibilities for producing creative and resisting subjects for change; meaning we must interrogate teaching, learning, and the administration of education not only for their contributions to social success for all learners but also how educational sites make possible a new future. Under the idea of futurity, what becomes possible is a realization the coloniality of schooling and education continues to produce hierarchies and systemic barriers that are very consequential for educational outcomes for learners. To understand the coloniality of education, we need more nuanced theoretical prisms that offer deeper insights into how schools and other educational sites perform as colonial and imperial agents of society.

Anti-colonialism as a Discursive Framework for Education

The anti-colonial discursive framework helps uncover such colonial relations of schooling and education. It also helps point to directions for resistance, change, and transformation. As argued in other contexts, the “anti-colonial” refers to an approach to theorizing colonial and re-colonial relations and the implications of imperial structures on (a) processes of knowledge production, interrogation, validation, and dissemination; (b) the understanding of Indigeneity as both a process and identity; and (c) the pursuit of agency, resistance, and subjective politics (see Dei 2000, Dei and Kempf 2006). (Subjective politics is the politics of the subject/body engaging questions of how identity is linked to knowledge and political practice.) The anti-colonial brings to the fore questions of colonial relations of knowledge, power, resistance, subject agency, and the place of Indigenous insurgence and resurgences in promoting new futures. In a theorization of anti-colonial, the “colonial” is understood as anything that is “imposed” and “dominating,” rather than simply “foreign” and “alien” (see also Dei and Asgharzadeh 2001). Colonial relations are seen as encounters (lived experiences, histories, resistances) shaped and defined by difference: race, gender, class, sexuality, language, culture, etc. The colonial encounter gestures to the importance of viewing colonialism as more than political domination of Indigenous and colonized peoples. Colonialism is read to imply an unending relation and practice, as something that continually challenges the sovereignty of colonized and Indigenous peoples. Indeed, today colonialism is alive in the denial of Indigenous peoples’ sovereignty and self-autonomy, dispossession of the lands, the displacement of peoples, and the denial of people’s basic humanity, as well as imperialistic projects that continue to design other peoples futures. There are also the many recolonizing projects that manifest themselves in variegated ways and different contexts through globalism (see also Dei and Meredith 2016, Kempf 2010).

Colonialism and colonial encounters have persistently thrived on exclusive notions of belonging, difference, and superiority Fanon (1990), Grosfuguel (2007). Colonial relations have always sought to establish and sustain hierarchies and systems of power and oppression, denying the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of colonized and Indigenous peoples. Through the colonial vestiges, dominant narratives championing the colonizer’s sense of rationality, reason, legitimacy, authority, and privilege are employed to define and script the colonized as the violent “other.” The colonizer is pitted as just, innocent, benevolent, caring, and ethical (see Fanon’s discussion on Manichaeisms). It is such extended conversations about the nature of colonialism and decolonization that ground current anti-colonial theorization. This theorization must also be taken as an affirmation of the continuing struggles for colonized peoples and communities to purge ourselves of the “psycho-existential complexes” and “psycho-affective features” battered and imprinted on us over the course of the colonial experience and through colonizing and imperial knowledges (see also Coulthard 2007, p. 450).

Dei (2006) notes that contemporary anti-colonial theorizing has roots in the decolonizing movements of colonial States that fought for independence from European countries at the end of the Second World War. The revolutionary ideas of Frantz Fanon, Mohandas Gandhi, Mao-Tse-Tung, Albert Memmi, Aime Cesaire, Kwame Nkrumah, and Che Guevara, to name a few, were instrumental in fermenting anti-colonial struggles. Most of these scholars were avowed nationalists who sought political liberation for all colonized peoples and communities using the power of knowledge. In particular, Fanon’s (1967) and Gandhi’s writings on the violence of colonialism and the necessity for open resistance and Albert Memmi’s (1969) discursive on the relations between the colonized and the colonizer helped instill in the minds of colonized peoples the importance of engaging in acts of resistance to oppose the violence of colonialism. In later years, particularly in the contexts of Africa, other scholars including Aime Cesaire (1972), Leopold Senghor (1996), and Cabral (1974) introduced questions of language, identity, and national culture into anti-colonial debates for political and intellectual liberation. Furthermore, liberation movements have also sprouted in the heart of empire as evidenced by the works of Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael (2007), Garvey (2016), and Baldwin (1962) larger movements such as the Black Panthers, American Indian Movement, and the Brown Berets in the United States. These interventions have furthered anti-colonial struggles abroad and within the North American context. Later perspectives have tended to conflate the processes of neocolonialism and postcolonialism. A critical transhistorical approach allows us to work with the discursive knowledge of re-colonial relations, that is, colonialism and colonial relations as unending and ongoing, and hence a need to problematize the periodization of colonial histories Escobar (2004). While anti-colonialism may draw on postcolonial and neocolonial writings and theoretical stances, these frameworks and approaches are by no means synonymous with each other.

Contemporary Anti-colonial Theory

Contemporary radical anti-colonial theory focuses on ways colonial relations have been produced and continue to be reproduced in the present. For example, there are modern-day forms of human oppression and colonial exploitation that bring to the fore issues of colonial and human rights abuses, economic exploitation, commodification of bodies, etc. as transnational corporations and colonial States generate huge profits. Many of the colonial and colonizing practices associated through child labor, forced labor, debt bondage, or indentured servitude are incredibly violent practices that work through colonial structures in service of the empire (Walia 2013, Escobar 2004). For example, transnational corporations operate within nation [colonial] States to maximize profits by reducing costs through uncompensated labor, low wages, etc. An overwhelming portion of this labor force is deeply racialized and gendered. The interconnectedness of global capital and exploitation of gendered and racialized labor has always been a colonial practice of State and empire building. While today the exploitation of racialized and gendered labor is mainly imagined in the global South context of sweatshops, maquiladoras, and other such mass production spaces, such exploitation is very much present in the global North. It is a feature of modern-day economics, race, and gender politics stepped in global capitalism and Western modernity. There is a powerful global reach of the problem that requires multiple tools of analysis. Anti-colonial and decolonial prisms are powerful lenses of investigation and understanding. The anti-colonial prism helps us to tease out the myriad dimensions of global exploitations by uncovering the experiences of racialized and gendered labor as exercised in numerous sectors including industrial manufacturing, technology, agricultural farm work, and other mass production sites. Throughout these locations, racialized bodies have become disposable, and within the global north deportable, workers. Compounding this is the resulting tensions between the rhetorics/advocacy of change and working politically for meaningful change.

The anti-colonial prism allows us to look at how change emerges from among the colonized and oppressed themselves. It highlights the intellectual and political agency of the local subjects while critiquing the colonial vestiges that often present oppressed, colonized, and Indigenous groups as passive (nonresisting and without agency). For example, in the interdependence of global capital and labor exploitation of racialized and gendered workers, we see how exploited labor (e.g., women) employs their agency in deciding migration and labor paths (Sharma 2005). Whether in sex work, indentured labor, arranged employment, or simply the aid or payment to move across borders, workers are in the know about the oppressive and exploitative trajectories. Yet they may decide it as personal choice with an understanding of what awaits (a difficult life, though, hopefully, less so than the original or preceding context). The problem is that too often there is the illegalization of labor migrants in global North which constitutes a criminalization of human movement across borders stemming from ongoing colonial relations. Often, the response is to deport these labor migrants as having transgressed spatial borders, and hypocritically such deportation gets seen as saving, particularly through a Western bourgeois lens (De Genova 2005).

Anti-colonialism thus questions the effects of global capital and the ways the global North advances the violence associated with the use of racialized, gendered, and working class labor across geographical spaces Mignolo (2007), Quijano (2007), Rabaka (2011). As noted the nation State is heavily implicated in all of this. And so, as is often the case, we cannot construct the idea of transnational corporations running the world in the absence of colonial States with significant power. Current discussions about forced labor also fit State-run migrant programs. Yet, there is no call to demand nation States/governments to address these inequities. Colonialism, slavery, and racism have worked in tandem, and we are still living with the effects. It is visible, and it must be addressed at multiple individual, local and global levels. Throughout human history, and particularly within settler colonial contexts, Black and Indigenous peoples were and are still required by the project of colonialism to ensure that the nation State retains its control (i.e., control as in over the benefits of citizenship, over the way land is distributed and used, over who has access to social services and employment, over who can afford housing, over who can afford certain kinds of food, etc.). In Canada, for example, Whites did not just colonize Indigenous peoples. The colonial settler State funneled Black and other racialized groups unto Aboriginal soils, seduced us [immigrants] with the benefits of citizenship, and capitalized on the exploitation of Black and racialized labor to build the society we have today. Media, popular culture, school textbooks, and in fact the broad school curriculum ignore the dispossession of Black people and, simultaneously, paints a false portrait of peaceful settlement/relationships. This portrait is a gross misrepresentation of the violence that has occurred to create the nation. All this requires an anti-colonial reading to understand the nature and extent of colonial violence. Similarly, Africans on the continent are still struggling with neocolonial practices that impact on questions of development and human rights with the role and policies of international financial bodies (e.g., IMF and the World Bank) and transnational corporations impacting negatively on African peoples’ lives. In Africa, we also have the tapping and draining of local wealth, human resources, and other material resources. And, there is a connection of Africa and African peoples on the continent and in the diaspora.

Race and Anti-colonial Education

Race, colonialism, and oppression worked and continue to work in a powerful tandem, particularly in schooling and education. The problem is that colonial education has worked to erode identities, spiritualities, and sense of communities as vital ingredients of knowledge for understanding our education. Racism was and has continued to be a colonial project. The colonizer does not have to be present for the racist effects of colonization to be felt. We have colonial patriarchal structures and systems set in place to do the colonizer’s bidding. The changing meanings and complexities of Whiteness and Blackness do not obscure their saliency in today’s sociopolitical contexts. The absented presence of race in educational spaces and the subsequent impact on youth identity formations require that we focus some attention in anti-colonial educational practice for subversion of White colonial dominance. Anti-colonialism therefore necessitates accounting for the normalization and subsequent coloniality of race in institutional settings. In other words, anti-colonial framework rejects the idea that, since race is difficult to define, one cannot disengage from pinning down its legacy. Race is real in its consequences given the power of colonial hierarchies established along the lines of raciality and racialogies. While schooling is a microcosm of the prevalence of racist structures in society, it also informs and guides much of what we take for granted. Schools are charged with producing “good citizens” and schooling naturalizes hegemonic ways of being and belonging. In short, anti-colonial framework theorizes how dominant schooling does not problematize or interrogate the centering of a White-settler logic. Instead, while masquerading as the space for the development of critical thought, it demands and rewards passive belonging. This process is subtractive. It actively works to remove knowledges, cultures, and pride of one’s community and family in the name of civilizing subjects and, as Valenzuela (1999) points out, those who resist these processes are themselves removed from the schooling structure. We must link this to the process school push outs.

Consequently, anti-colonial education connects race and the cultural politics of schooling and education raising new questions: How do we read who is deemed worthy of education by conventional standards? Where is the “multi” in the multicultural space and diverse pluralistic contexts? How do we explain the mystification of Blackness in schooling and everyday social practices? How are discourses of respectability entrenched in schooling and educational to adversely practices affect Black, Indigenous, and other racialized learners? What particular meanings do we bring to the ways racialized, gendered, classed, sexualized identities implicate differential educational outcomes for youth? What are the ways we maintain invisibility of some forms of oppressions and racisms? What type of education should educators provide to learners, and what are learners going to do with such education? What does it mean to create an inclusive anti-colonial global future and the nature of work it requires to collectively get us there? These questions implicate the school curriculum, classroom pedagogy and instruction, and the educational practices required to bring educators, students, and local communities together to break down colonial structures of schooling. These questions are important because colonial education maintains blind spots on particular identities of learners (e.g., race) and their connections to schooling, education, and knowledge production.

An anti-colonial analysis of education studies how failing to connect race and colonial oppression is a major problem of colonial education. The educational system has not adequately prepared learners to discuss race, let alone how race is rooted in colonization and colonial structures. Most learners are not equipped with the language [vocabulary] to speak, interrogate, and trouble race and colonizing encounters. So it is not uncommon to see even racialized learners shy away from race. When we center race and difference in education, we can also bring new questions to the neoliberal educational agenda. Educators, students, administrators, parents, guardians, community workers, and local communities can challenge our own colonial investments through mainstream educational pursuits. By highlighting democratic education, individual rights, and freedoms, liberal education agenda points to the dialectic of coloniality and modernity and the ways this dialectic informs schooling practices. The power of Euro-colonial modernity does not allow for a reimagining of new/alternative educational and social futures. Western hegemonic systems of thought, ways of knowledge production, and conventional processes of schooling and educational delivery are intertwined to maintain a colonial educational system. Colonial hierarchies and relations of schooling revolve around certain ontological, epistemological, and axiological hegemonic foundations. Conceptions of individual rights, human dignity, liberty, freedom, choice, equality, “autonomy,” justice, virtue, tolerance of dissenting viewpoints, etc., are all relevant. But we need to work politically and collectively to actualize these ideals. Anti-colonial education pays particular attention to the macro-social processes, as well as the economic, political, and psychocultural realms of domination.

Indigeneity and Anti-colonial Education

Another important dimension of contemporary anti-colonial theorizing is the engagement of question of Indigeneity as an international category. This approach to anti-colonial framework imbricates lessons of Indigenous peoples’ struggles for sovereignty against White colonial settlerhood and other dispossessions of Indigenous peoples’ lands and territories across global spaces Tuck and Yang (2012). The occupation is not solely a physical occupation. This expansive reading brings a transhistorical lens to the discussion allowing us to work with the knowledge of re-colonial relations as about loss of land, space, histories of migration, culture and memory, notion of belonging, connected spirits, and identities. In this sense the “anti-colonial” is intimately connected to decolonization and, by implication, decolonization cannot happen solely through Western science scholarship. In other words, the anti-colonial becomes decolonial resistance to the hegemony of Western knowledge and a search for new futures of mutual coexistence.

By moving Indigeneity beyond a strictly genealogical representation of relationship to land, the “Indigenous” is then defined broadly to maintain space for anti-colonial and decolonial thought embracing Latin American, mestizo, “mixed race,” Black, African, Indian, Asian, South Asian histories, and experiences as we confront the question of Indigeneity. Such approach allows for a more critical discourse and practice of Indigenous resurgences and empowers Indigenous peoples everywhere to reimagine a collective future together. It also allows us to push our understanding of decolonization to include culture, space, bodies, the psyche, the internalization of colonial relations of thought, and colonial difference, as well as the intersectionalities of struggles. This is revisioning of decolonization and anti-colonial politics differently and yet converging. Colonized bodies that move into new spaces, usually settler colonial contexts [e.g., racialized immigrants in White-settler communities], do not automatically lose their Indigeneity or Indigenousness (Dei 2016). The colonial encounter did not remove the knowledge base from mind, memory, and soul. Such knowledges can be and are being reclaimed globally as the basis for global Indigenous resurgence.


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Nana Adusei Sefa Tweneboah I, Social Justice EducationOISE, University of TorontoTorontoCanada